Employees of Centura Banks Inc. in Rocky Mount, N.C., can double their salaries under an innovative incentive program the bank has created to promote a sales culture.

The program, which was installed earlier this year, allows most of the $4.2 billion bank's employees to earn higher salaries once they have worked off the costs of their salaries, expenses, and benefits.

"This program moves them toward a sales-oriented environment that is very nontraditional for a bank," said David Stumpf, a bank analyst at Wheat First Butcher Singer in Richmond, Va. "It's not unusual to hear about banks trying to do this, but they're taking it to a whole other step."

Incentive programs exist in many financial institutions, but most measure performance primarily by entire branches in certain regions or market areas. The Centura program focuses on the performance of an individual employee and rewards him or her accordingly.

For a number of years, Centura, like many of its competitors, offered yearend bonuses based on subjective criteria, such as a branch manager recognizing an employee for 'doing a good job.' The new program, called a sales-tracking system, uses objective criteria.

It assigns a value to each sale an employee makes and compares that total value to the cost of the employee's previous compensation package. Once the value of the sales exceed the cost of the employee, the employee receives the added benefits.

The value of selling a certificate of deposit, for example, would be equal to the full amount of the CD. For other sales, such as loans, the value is determined based on the monthly net interest margin of the loan. Employees who are not directly involved in sales, such as tellers, receive added benefits based on referrals they make.

"We wanted to have as a wide a range of people as possible in the program," said Kell Landis, an executive vice president at Centura who helped to create the system. "If they [employees] sell and do well, then we pay them more, and the more our shareholders make. There are no caps on it."

This motivation to sell is tempered with the interests of customers, bank officials asserted.

"We want a plan that encourages sales that at the same time is not at the expense of our customers," said Cecil W. Sewell, president and chief executive of Centura. "That's a delicate balance."

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